Tax professionals must have a Preparer Tax Identification Number, or PTIN, if they are paid to prepare tax returns. Because PTINs expire every December 31st, tax preparers need to renew their PTIN before tax season starts. Preparers can get or renew a PTIN online in about 15 minutes or by mail in about six weeks.
Getting a PTIN for the first time involves a different process than renewing a PTIN. We provide you with step-by-step instruction to do both below.
What Is a PTIN?
PTIN is an acronym for Preparer Tax Identification Number. Every person who prepares tax returns for compensation must obtain a PTIN from the IRS. Tax preparers are required by law to include their PTIN on each tax return they prepare. PTINs have nine characters beginning with the letter P and followed by eight numbers.
Who Needs to Get an IRS PTIN
A PTIN is necessary for every tax professional who receives compensation for preparing, or assisting in the preparation, of U.S. federal tax returns. Certified public accountants, enrolled agents, participants in the Annual Filing Season Program, and other tax preparers fall under the PTIN requirements. However, accountants who are starting a bookkeeping business don’t need to get a PTIN if they prepare only certain types of tax forms (such as 1099s).
While PTIN requirements may seem simple, there are very specific rules to determine who needs to get a PTIN:
- PTIN Required if Receiving Compensation: Means the tax professional is getting paid to prepare federal tax returns. For example, if you’re a volunteer who only prepares tax returns for free, then you do not need to get a PTIN.
- PTIN Required if Assisting in Preparing Tax Returns: Means the tax professional prepares part of a tax return and makes determinations that impact the client’s tax liability. However, interns who only perform routine data entry and don’t make tax determinations are not required to get a PTIN.
- PTIN Not Required if Only Preparing Certain Forms: Attorneys, CPAs, and other accountants who only prepare certain types of informational tax forms don’t have to get a PTIN. This includes forms in the 1098 and 1099 series, Form W-7, and Form 2848. For the full list of exempt forms, refer to FAQ A1 at Do I Need a PTIN? on IRS.gov.
Bookkeepers who only prepare Form 1099 for their small business clients don’t need to get a PTIN. That being said, preparing tax returns is one of the best ways to get bookkeeping clients. Just be aware that bookkeepers will need to get a PTIN before filing any personal or business tax returns for their clients.
How to Get a PTIN in Four Steps
There are four steps to follow in order to get a PTIN for free. First, make sure you have the documents and information needed to apply for a PTIN. Second, create a PTIN account on IRS.gov. Third, fill out the PTIN application online, which takes about 15 minutes. Fourth, receive your PTIN, which the IRS usually sends to your PTIN inbox immediately after completing the application.
Download our free PTIN checklist, which summarizes the documents you need and the four-step process for how to get a PTIN.
In more detail, the four steps needed to get a PTIN for the first time are:
1. Gather Information for PTIN Registration
Before applying for a PTIN, tax preparers should download Form W-12 and read the instructions. Use Form W-12 as a checklist to make sure you have all the required information. At a minimum, tax preparers should have the last tax return handy as well as details about their professional credentials (such as their CPA license). Some preparers may need to explain prior felony convictions. Other preparers may need to have notarized or certified copies of their government-issued identification documents.
Information tax preparers need to gather before PTIN registration includes:
- Personal Information: Your name, mailing address, Social Security number, and email address. You will also need the name, address, and telephone number for any business you own.
- Professional Certifications: You will need information about professional credentials such as Enrolled Agent, Certified Public Accountant, or state tax preparer license. You’ll need your certification number, the jurisdiction that issued the certification, and expiration date.
- Previous Tax Returns: Your personal tax return is used by the IRS to authenticate your identity. If you recently filed a tax return in the last eight weeks, then use information from a previous tax return.
- Felony Convictions: You will need to explain prior felony convictions. Persons who are currently in prison usually are not allowed to get or to renew a PTIN. Typically, the IRS does not issue PTINs to felons convicted of financial or tax-related crimes.
- Tax Compliance: Resolve any problems with the IRS before applying for a PTIN. File any missing personal or business tax returns, and make arrangements to pay any unpaid taxes. Explain your situation and the steps you took to resolve the problems on your PTIN registration.
- Foreign Person (No SSN): Foreign persons who are not eligible for a Social Security number will need to provide certified or notarized documents to establish their identity, such as a foreign passport, visa, or birth certificate. Include Form 8946 with your PTIN registration.
- Conscientious Objectors (No SSN): Certain persons who have religious objections to obtaining a Social Security number will need to download and complete Form 8945. This form is then mailed to the IRS along with certified or notarized documents to establish your identity, such as a U.S. passport, driver’s license, or birth certificate.
Bookkeepers do not need to tell the IRS about their certified bookkeeper or certified public bookkeeper credentials. However, bookkeepers should tell the IRS about their CPA, state-issued tax preparer, enrolled retirement plan agent, or certifying acceptance agent credentials.
2. Create a PTIN Account
When applying for a PTIN for the first time, tax professionals are strongly encouraged to create a PTIN account online with the IRS. With an online PTIN account, first-time applicants can fill out the paperwork and receive their PTIN in about 15 minutes.
As you can see in the screenshot above, the process for creating a PTIN account includes:
- Create Account: Click the button under the New User section.
- User Information: Provide your name, email address, and the secret answer to the password recovery challenge question.
- Login Using Your Temporary Password: The IRS will email you a temporary password. Use that to log into the PTIN system.
- Change Your Password: Be sure to create a complex password. Keep your password in a safe and secure location, since you will need to log into the PTIN system at least once a year.
3. Apply for a PTIN
Tax preparers apply for a PTIN either through the IRS website or by mailing in Form W-12. Applying for a PTIN online takes about 15 minutes. After creating an online PTIN account, tax preparers log in to the PTIN system and select the option to sign up with their Social Security number.
Below is the main screen of the PTIN online application:
The process for applying for a PTIN online includes:
- Create a PTIN Account: From the login page, select the Create Account button. Provide your name, email address, user ID, secret question, and secret answer. The IRS will email you a temporary password.
- PTIN Sign-up (With SSN): Most tax preparers select “PTIN Sign-up (with SSN),” and follow the on-screen prompts. You will be asked to provide the information that you gathered.
- PTIN Sign-up (Without SSN): Select this option if you are a foreign national who does not have a U.S. Social Security number. You will need to upload certified or notarized identity documents through the online PTIN system.
- No Recent Tax Return: If you have not filed tax returns in the last four years, or if you filed your tax returns in Puerto Rico, you will need to select the No Recent Tax Return option. You will also need to upload certified or notarized copies of your Social Security card and government-issued photo ID.
4. Receive Your PTIN
After completing the online PTIN application, most tax preparers will receive their Preparer Tax Identification Number immediately once the application is complete. If you mailed in the paper forms, you will receive your PTIN after the IRS processes your PTIN application in about four to six weeks. You may want to save or to print the welcome message from the IRS containing your PTIN. If desired for your records, print the screens of your PTIN application after you complete them, as the IRS will not email you a copy of your completed application.
Below is a screenshot of what the PTIN website looks like after you receive your PTIN:
Three things that are important to notice on the PTIN main menu include:
- Your PTIN Is Displayed Twice: Once on the left-hand side under Manage My PTIN Account, and again on the right-hand side under My PTIN Information.
- Click Show Details: See the expiration date for your PTIN and any professional credentials you have by clicking Show Details on the right-hand side next to My PTIN Information.
- View Your Messages: The IRS delivers messages about your PTIN, such as reminders to renew your PTIN or notices that your PTIN has expired. This is also where you find your official PTIN welcome letters that display your PTIN, status, and expiration date. The messages download as PDF files.
3 Steps to a PTIN Renewal
Tax preparers must renew their Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) each year. PTINs expire on the last day of the year, December 31. Preparers can renew their PTIN as early as mid-October. Prepares should renew their PTINs before filing tax returns in the new year. Preparers can renew their PTIN online or by mail.
The three steps for a PTIN renewal are:
1. Log into Your PTIN Account
Log into the PTIN System on IRS.gov. From the main menu, click on the Select button next to PTIN Renewal. Follow the prompts on the screen. Alternatively, you can fill out and mail in Form W-12.
2. Verify Your PTIN Information
After selecting the PTIN Renewal link, review and verify the information displayed on the screen. Update any information. Complete all required fields, which are marked with a red asterisk.
3. Get Your PTIN Renewal Confirmation
After verifying your information, your PTIN is renewed for the year. From the main menu, you will see that your PTIN has an active status. You will notice that the year your PTIN expires is also updated; view this by clicking on Show Details. The IRS will also send a PTIN renewal letter to your PTIN inbox.
Tips from the Pros on What Is a PTIN Penalty
Getting a PTIN and renewing a PTIN are relatively easy. However, there are stiff penalties for not getting a PTIN, according to Jennifer MacMillan, who is an enrolled agent and chairperson of the government relations committee of the National Association of Enrolled Agents. We spoke to Ms. MacMillan, and she said:
“Anyone who prepares a return for money has to have [a PTIN]. It is a really simple process. If you don’t get one, there are penalties for preparing a return without one: $50 per return. There are separate penalties if you don’t sign the return. Words of warning: do it right.”
– Jennifer MacMillan, owner of JM Tax.
Tax preparers who do not get a PTIN, Ms. MacMillan further explained, can face IRS penalties of $50 per return, up to a maximum of $25,000 for the calendar year. Additionally, the IRS can impose a separate penalty for not signing the tax return as a paid preparer, and that penalty is another $50 per return, up to a maximum of $25,000 for the calendar year.
Tips on How to Get a Preparer Tax ID Number (PTIN)
There are a few things that you can do to avoid delays in getting or renewing your PTIN. The key is to wrap up your continuing education credits prior to submitting your PTIN application and start your application before the tax season begins to avoid delays.
A few tips on getting and renewing a PTIN include:
Get or Renew Your PTIN Before Tax Season
Start your PTIN application or renewal process before tax season begins. The PTIN System on IRS.gov can go offline occasionally for maintenance. Before you can start filing tax returns, your PTIN must be active. Leave yourself plenty of time to apply or to renew, just in case the system happens to go down.
Update Your PTIN Information
If your name, email address, mailing address, or telephone number changes, you can update your PTIN information from the PTIN system main menu. Log into the system and navigate to Manage My PTIN Account. Follow the on-screen instructions to update the information that has changed.
Finish Your CPE Before Renewing PTIN
Since CPE is required in order to renew your PTIN, you want to be sure to complete all of your credits prior to submitting your renewal application. Whenever you take continuing education classes, the education provider reports your credits to the IRS using your PTIN. You can log into your PTIN account to see what’s been reported in the View My Continuing Education Credits section. This will allows the IRS to process your AFSP Record of Completion.
Opt Out of the Preparer Directory
If you prefer not to have your information published in the IRS Directory of Tax Preparers, you can opt out. This can be done in the Manage My PTIN Account.
Continuing Education Credits: Returns Filed Using Your PTIN
The IRS keeps track of the number of tax returns that have been filed using your PTIN. Compare this information with your own records to see if it matches up. If more tax returns were filed than you actually prepared, this could be a sign someone is using your PTIN without your permission. If this is the case, you should immediately report this to the IRS.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About How to Get a PTIN
This article covers how to get a PTIN and renew a PTIN. Below we answer questions that tax preparers often ask about PTINs. If you have other questions, feel free to post them in the FitSmallBusiness Forum, and we’ll get back to you with an answer.
Frequently asked questions about how to get a PTIN include:
How do I apply or renew a PTIN on paper?
Tax preparers can apply for a new Preparer Tax Identification Number or renew their PTIN by filling out Form W-12. Mail Form W-12 to the IRS along with any necessary documents. Allow four to six weeks for processing. You can also apply for or renew a PTIN with the IRS online in about 15 minutes.
Do I need a PTIN?
Anyone paid to prepare federal tax returns must have a PTIN. Enrolled agents and participants in the Annual Filing Season Program are required to obtain PTINs. Attorneys, certified public accountants, and other practitioners are exempt from PTIN requirements if the only forms they prepare are informational, such as Form 2848, Form 1098, and Form 1099.
Can I opt-out of the IRS sharing my PTIN information with advertisers?
No. The IRS shares information about PTIN holders with advertisers. Advertisers can request this information from the IRS under the Freedom of Information Act. The IRS makes available to advertisers the name, business name, business mailing address, and professional credential of PTIN holders. PTIN holders cannot opt-out of this.
Tax professionals are required to obtain and renew a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) if they are paid to prepare federal tax returns. Applying for a PTIN can be done on the IRS website and takes about 15 minutes. Preparers can renew their PTIN with the IRS online as well. Alternatively, preparers can mail in Form W-12 to apply for or renew their PTIN.